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Workers at California hospital begin strike today, demanding a fair contract

Members gather at the picket line. (Photo credit: Andrew Dudenbostel)
Workers at California hospital begin strike today, demanding a fair contract
By AFSCME Staff ·

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – About 300 critical health care workers at California’s Sequoia Hospital went on strike Monday after their employer, Dignity Health, failed to bargain a fair contract.

The workers – nurses’ assistants, aides, surgical techs, respiratory therapists, housekeepers, cooks and others – voted overwhelmingly to go on strike last week after four months of contract negotiations with the leadership of Dignity Health and President Bill Graham failed to resolve issues of fair pay and benefits.

Workers say Dignity must invest in them to keep staff and ensure patients get the care they need and deserve. Staff recruitment and retention are major problems that have led to untenable patient caseloads.

Workers have described conditions for workers and patients as unsatisfactory. Being stretched so thin forces hospital employees to do more with less, which means they have less time to spend with patients. The staffing crisis is exacerbated by the fact that compensation has fallen far below other employers while health insurance premiums have spiked.

“How can I safely care for 32 patients? It’s humanly impossible,” said Aretha Martins, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in Sequoia’s cardiac surveillance unit. “I went to the bathroom a few times to cry but had to swallow it and return because there was so much to be done. It’s horrible. We need safe staffing ratios now.”

These essential workers are represented by AFSCME Local 829 (Council 57) and have been in contract negotiations for months. Management has proposed a meager 3% wage increase, unaffordable health insurance, and refuses to adhere to a safe staffing ratios of eight patients per CNA.

“We are going to remain on strike until we can deliver the high-quality care San Mateo County deserves through high-quality jobs we can be proud of,” said Yvonne Haynes, a CNA in the medical/surgical/orthopedic unit.

“We are disappointed and saddened that they are treating us this way,” she added. “We work at this hospital because we love our work, care for our patients, and are committed to this community. We have put our lives on the line throughout COVID, and many people left. But we stayed.”

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